Have you ever had one of those days? Not the ones that make you feel like Dilbert or make you feel like you have a case of the “Mundays”. But the kind of days you can do no wrong — you are effectively — in the zone.
More commonly seen (or given the attention) in sports, being in the zone has been described by athletes at any level as being almost “unconscious”. I am in my early 40’s so the seminal sports figure who were in the zone at the highest levels were Michael Jordan (when he hit 6 three pointers and 35 points in one half), Roger Clemens (when he struck out 20 batters in a game), and Tiger Woods, twice, at the ’97 Masters and the 2000 US Open (when he demolished the field). It was if they were playing another sporting event and everyone else was just watching.
Getting Into The Zone: How To Achieve the Best “Flow” State
It happens to everyone, in a any field. I don’t care if its writing, skiing, cooking, bowling, painting, golf — the list goes on. There have been times you just can’t miss and you feel invincible. But how do you get there and what makes it go away?
For most that enter the zone, there is a certain amount of awareness of the situation, but not to the point when you’re too aware. But the moment can be very fleeting — it’s almost as if the second you know you’re in the zone, it suddenly leaves you. This is why it is said you should always have pen and paper by your bedside — because its the moments right before your fall asleep, as you’re drifting off, that you are at your most creative — many a great idea have come and gone during the moments right before sleep.
So how do you get there and stay there at will? Well, I’m not sure it works that way, but you could maximize you chances by trying these things.
“You’re not healthy, unless your sleep is healthy.” — Dr. William Dement
On very rare occasions are we at our best when we are tired. Getting enough great sleep is vital for optimum, repeatable performance. I’m not talking about a once in a lifetime zone, I’m talking about getting into a flow state repeatedly. This means your brain is going to need to recover from the days, weeks, and years of work you’re putting it through. I’m not going to write about sleep here, but Shawn Stevenson wrote a great book about the subject recently — check it out here.
Lower Your Expectations
This isn’t scientific, but anytime I’ve lowered my expectations in a situation I subconsciously take unneeded pressure off of myself, I’ve performed better. But the times when I made a situation more important than it needed to be, the results have been disappointing at best. I’m not saying there aren’t moments that you will need to rise to the occasion, but putting all kinds of expectation on yourself or worse, your team, is a sure way to not get the best performance. Lastly, I’m not at all condoning not taking what you do seriously — in fact, I’m advocating for the opposite, just don’t do it in a way that binds you up on the inside. Trust me — it won’t end well.
The next time you find yourself in “the zone” take the risk of falling out of the zone and take note of the situation that led up to you being in that kind of flow. What time of day was it? Where were you? This may sound strange, but what did you eat? I can say this with any kind of certainty, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never been in the zone after a very heavy and unhealthy meal. In fact, the times I’ve performed well I can actually remember being a little hungry, but not starving. If you can put yourself in the same situation enough times that get you into the zone, you’ll be able to repeat that optimal level of performance.
So there you have it — a completely unofficial and unscientific guide to getting into the zone. It works for me, but if you have a way to crank out great work by getting into the zone, comment below, I’d love to hear about it.